Dear Maria B, your ill-informed views on the transgender rights law are not ‘educating’ anyone

Published 26 Sep, 2022 05:30pm

From your lack of knowledge on the subject to your patronising descriptions of trans people, your video marginalises an already marginalised community.

After being called out for her anti-transgender views in the past, designer Maria B has decided the internet needs a second round of her ill-informed opinions and has shared with the public a video of her and her sisters talking about the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2018.

Last month, she clashed horns with transgender rights activist Dr Mehrub Moiz Awan after the academic was excluded from a TEDxISL (International School Lahore) panel in a move she decried as transphobia. The designer lauded ISL’s decision to remove Awan from the panel and had some very strange justifications, including but not limited to being a concerned parent. A month later, the designer is back to give even more unasked for opinions on the Transgender Act and the ‘effect’ it has on families in Pakistan.

On Saturday, the designer, whose full name is Maria Butt, shared a video of herself and her sisters Najia and Aafia talking about the law, saying it’s a “hot topic” that they want to discuss considering that it will “affect their children”. “The first thing that one needs to do is to identify what transgender means. Who is the most famous transgender in the world? Everyone knows about Kim Kardashian and her father. He was her father first and then her mother. His name is Caitlyn Jenner,” Butt said, misgendering Jenner who goes by the pronouns she/her and misidentifying her as the ‘most famous transgender’ person in the world.

She then questioned if the act approved by lawmakers in Pakistan is for people like Jenner. “No absolutely not, this act was made for the khwaja sira community. They are intersex people and there’s a massive difference between them and transgenders. On the act that represents the marginalised community, after 70 years when we’re doing something for them, and transgenders have usurped their rights,” she said.

Before we get into what can be described as Maria B’s audition reel to be a TV show host, we’ll put forward some facts:

  • the law was enacted by parliament in 2018 to provide legal recognition to transgender persons, enshrining their rights to education, basic health facilities, the right to affirm their transgender identity on ID cards and passports, as well as the right to vote in and contest elections.
  • the opinion of the chairman of the Council for Islamic Ideology had been sought with regard to the Transgender Rights Act
  • the matter remains under discussion in parliament while the outcome of two petitions filed in the Federal Shariat Court (FSC) is awaited

Given the sensitivity and technical nature of this topic — medically, religiously, legally and socially — we’re not going to get into the actual law itself. What we’re going to be talking about is Maria B and her propensity to put herself forward as the unasked for champion of the khwaja sira community. This debate is being had in the parliament, by members of the transgender community and, soon, in the FSC. It does not need to be had by Maria B, a woman who has 369,000 followers on Instagram but no expertise in this matter.

Maria B and her sisters are not members of the khwaja sira community, so their ‘need’ to speak about for a segment that is already struggling to be heard is deeply problematic. Is it perhaps then a saviour complex which has them speaking about a community they are not part of or is it that seeing other people get basic liberties is offensive to them in some way?

That is not to say that you don’t have a right to talk about an issue in society — everyone does. You can absolutely speak up about those who have been marginalised, but don’t speak for them. You should not be jumping into a conversation that requires that community’s input and that of experts.

In a society where there is a lack of understanding and empathy for this community, don’t give your two cents on how a person can prove they are a ‘real’ transgender or khwaja sira. Talking so frivolously is equivalent to propagating hate. Let people far more learned than you talk about this so that they can actually “educate” people.

One of Maria’s sisters argued vehemently for DNA and blood tests to ‘prove’ if someone was khwaja sira, transgender or cisgender. The other argued about the merits of the law when it has no “verses from the Quran and Hadith” in it. This shows ignorance about how laws to be; there are systems in place to ensure that if and when religious guidance is required, input from learned religious bodies is sought and incorporated — as is being done right now.

When it comes to religion, we’ll leave it to Islamic scholars with expertise in Islamic jurisprudence to have this discussion. Three women without expertise in this matter (unless we’re missing their credentials on this topic) and with access to a camera and social media users cannot authoritatively weigh in on whether this law goes against ‘Islamic values’ and again, cannot speak for a community that continues to fight for its rights and faces violence while doing so.

As a Dawn editorial noted: “Members of the transgender community in the country are often at the receiving end of both their families’ and society’s censure and derision. Most are rejected and disowned by their families, while for its part, society sees them as lesser humans.”

Remember this before you weigh in on a topic this critical — this community is made fun of and ridiculed already; your flippant views and facial expressions only add to this ostracising behaviour.